The joy of victory - and back into the ring


Howard At Play


NOT ALL a reporter hears while pursuing certain stories makes the newspaper in the following few days. But that doesn't mean it isn't worth repeating. Three examples:

We asked Mike Ricasa, the Ellicott City auto mechanic profiled here in early May, just before he won his first fight as a professional boxer - at age 38, when most fighters have long-retired - what he'll remember about that night.

"What my wife, my friends and family did and said," he replied. "After they raised my hand as the winner, people were coming up and congratulating me, asking for my autograph, saying I looked really good - that was the best."

How about climbing into the ring, though? Any second thoughts?

"I hadn't been in a ring for five years," said Ricasa, who grappled with health problems between his last bout as an amateur and first as a pro. "But once the first punch was thrown, it was like riding a bike. You never forget. I was real confident about what I could do."

So you fulfilled a dream, finally fighting as a pro. Was once enough, winning that four-rounder by decision, after flooring your opponent in the first round?

"I'm definitely pursuing it again," Ricasa said.

In fact, Ricasa's next fight is scheduled for Aug. 12, also at the Clarence Du Burns Arena - best known to Howard Countians as an indoor soccer venue - in Baltimore's Brooklyn section.

Columbia resident John Ferrari, chairman of Maryland Swimming profiled here last month, was asked about having an Olympic-size pool built by someone, somewhere in Howard County.

That means a pool that is 50 meters long, instead of the 25 yards or meters that define all of the county's many pools, both indoors and outside. The longer pools are used for most national and international events.

"I'm definitely pro-adding a 50-meter pool," said Ferrari, who got involved in swimming administration through his children and the Columbia Clippers, although he has also been a Howard County YMCA swimmer.

"There's definitely a need for that kind of pool here," he said. "The county has a fair number of swimmers who'd use it and would benefit from that kind of training and competitive experience.

"You know, though, the majority of swimmers in the United States don't swim in 50-meter pools. But having a 50-meter pool facilitates competition for better swimmers. They say there's an invisible wall in a 50-meter pool. Part of it's psychological, but because when all you do is swim in a 25-yard pool, the walls give you a break."

Ferrari also observed that having a "long-course" pool, as Olympic-size pools are sometimes called, would mean being able to attract high-level competitions to the county - another asset economically for businesses here.

And then, a couple of weeks ago, Columbia lawyer David Harvis, a longtime softball player and team manager, talked about a memorable bat.

Harvis, who acknowledges having gotten addicted to slow-pitch softball well before metal bats became dominant, said that for years he owned what might have been the only bat that pop singer/songwriter Jackson Browne autographed, a wooden model from the mid-1970s.

Browne, whose fame was in sharp ascendancy then, and his group played Columbia's Merriweather Post Pavilion in 1977. In fact, a couple of Browne's best-known songs - "Stay" and one other you aficionados will find woven in here later - were recorded live there that night and still get frequent play on moldy-oldie radio.

Anyway, having arrived early, Browne and his crew wanted to play softball. So, Harvis said, a team of local men's league players was pulled together, and the game was played behind Wilde Lake Middle School.

"Browne pitched, and he also caught, but I really don't remember who won," Harvis said, "although it was probably us. But it was fun, and afterward, I asked him if he'd autograph a bat, which he did

"We kept that bat around for several years, even used it some, but then the metal bats took over and I put the Browne bat in my garage. A couple years ago, I thought about it but couldn't find it. My wife had given it away, once our children were grown, with some other sports equipment."

He didn't say it, but you could sense that, as Browne sang it to an audience that included him on Aug. 27, 1977, a little piece of Harvis is "Running on Empty."

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